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Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

Inconsistencies in Word Use

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 12, 2019

It’s important when editing your work to detect inconsistencies in word use. As I am revising my backlist titles, I am coming across several of these instances. One way that you can help avoid them in the future is to create a style sheet. Sometimes your publisher does this for you. Or you can note down observations yourself to make sure you follow through during the editing phase.

editing

Here are some examples of items to note:

Two words or single word – town house or townhouse; coffeemaker or coffee maker, nightstand or night stand?

If you have different publishers, each one will have their own preferences. But if the editing is up to you, choose one way to list your word(s) and stick to it. Don’t know which one is correct? Look it up in your favorite grammar text. And if both are commonly used, choose the one that suits you and use that one on a consistent basis.

Wine types – Chardonnay or chardonnay? I’ve seen this done both ways. Whichever you do, be consistent for all wine varietals.

Character names – Chris or Christine? Jan or Janice?

In my recent book that I’m editing, I noticed that sometimes I referred to a character by her full first name and at other times by her nickname. This can be confusing for the reader. We’re reading about Jan through several chapters, and then there’s a Janice who shows up. Who’s that? Best to stick with one rendition, unless you happen to be giving the person’s full first and last name together, like in an introduction.

Terms of endearment – hon, sweetheart, or babe, as used by a particular character

If your guy is always calling the ladies “babe” then don’t have him switch suddenly to another word. It’s part of his characterization to use that one term.

Foreign words – chutzpah or chutzpah?

Decide if you are going to italicize the foreign word or not, and then be consistent throughout the story.

Hyphenated words – hard-boiled eggs or hard boiled eggs; fund-raiser or fundraiser?

Again, this can be a publisher choice. If not, look it up to see what’s correct or make your own decision about the hyphen.

Whatever your word choices, be consistent as you edit your work. Keeping a style sheet will help you remember which word to use.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Avoiding Word Repetitions

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 6, 2019

When editing your fiction manuscript, one thing you must watch out for are word repetitions. This might be a favorite word you overuse, or it might be a specific word or phrase that you use twice in one paragraph. You want to clean these up so they don’t pull your reader out of the story.

Word Repetitions

Here are a couple of examples:

Perish by Pedicure

The sergeant smirked, as though he knew all her secrets. “And then?”

Then she called to tell me about the job opening. I offered to put her up at my house, so we could visit while she was here.”

So she arrived on…?”

“Friday. I drove directly to the convention hotel so we could check in. That’s when I met Christine Parks for the first time. She brought down the rest of the staff for a preliminary meeting so we could go over the schedule.”

“How was her demeanor on this occasion?”

“Very much in charge.” Chris wore flashy clothes to attract attention, Marla wanted to add, but she bit her lower lip instead.

“Did her behavior seem off-kilter in any manner?”

“Not really, and she appeared to be perfectly healthy,” Marla said, anticipating his next question.

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In this passage, note how many times I use the word SO. It is a favorite word of mine in conversation, too. Currently, I’m revising my backlist titles. This book had already been through several rounds of edits at my former publishing house and through my own multiple read-throughs at the time. How come I picked up on this now? Maybe because I’m more aware of this word’s overuse. Whatever the reason, it popped out at me this time.

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Easter Hair Hunt (Work in Progress)

“This Fabergé egg belongs in that spot.” Lacey pointed a shaky finger at the case. “Someone must have stolen it and substituted a plastic pink Easter egg in its place.”

Marla saw what she meant. Her stomach sank as she realized the significance.

Somebody had taken the valuable Fabergé egg and substituted a fake one in its place.

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A software program that will help you pick up on word repetitions is Smart-Edit. Otherwise, you can do a search and find if you’re aware of your foibles in this regard. If not, a close edit of your manuscript may turn them up.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Series Timelines

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 29, 2019

As your series grows in the number of books, it becomes critically important to keep track of your timelines. This came home to me recently when writing my latest work, tentatively titled Easter Hair Hunt. Hairstylist Marla Vail’s stepdaughter Brianna will be leaving for college soon. I wrote that she was a senior in high school but then realized I’d better check to make sure. The story takes place in March. The last one, Trimmed to Death, took place in October. Brianna was only in the eleventh grade in that story. She wouldn’t have graduated yet. Whoops. I went back and made her a junior for the current WIP.

Timelines

So what sorts of things do you need to keep track of from book to book? Here’s a handy list:

Character Ages
Character Birthdays
Grades for any school-age children
Notes on secondary characters regarding their current status
Dates for Holidays

For Easter Hair Hunt, I determined the holiday would take place in late March. I set Passover a week later. But was this plausible? I looked up dates on the Internet and found this:

Easter Sunday can fall between March 22 and April 25.
Easter is March 23 in 2008 but then Passover is April 20
Easter is March 27 in 2016 but then Passover is April 23
Easter is March 31 in 2024 but then Passover is April 23

Easter eggs2

I picked one of these dates for Easter in my story and had to remove Passover since it didn’t come until a month later.

Marla attends the egg hunt on a Saturday. She celebrates Easter with her interfaith family on Sunday. Monday is her day off, and that’s when she begins her snooping into the latest murder mystery. So for each individual book, you also need to know these factors:

Month your story takes place

Days of the week for each chapter or scene. Using one of those free calendars you get in the mail might be helpful.

Special events you mention in the story that will be coming up, such as a bridal shower for one of Marla’s friends.

calendar

Here’s an example of my timeline notes for Trimmed to Death:

Date: OCTOBER

Marla is 38 (BD Feb.). Royal Oaks, her housing development in southwest Palm Haven, is four years old.

Dalton is 46 (BD Nov.)

Brianna is 16, is in 11th grade as of Sept., and has her driver’s license (BD March). She takes acting classes to help with public speaking, belongs to the drama club and debate team at school. She’s aiming for college in Boston. Mentions a boy named Jason in Trimmed. Jason has an older brother who plays in a band.

Tally’s baby Luke is 14 months. (BD Aug. 3). Tally is 38 (BD Aug. 28)

Arnie, deli owner and Marla’s friend, is 42. Married to Jill.

Robyn, Marla’s neighbor and salon receptionist, is 36 (BD is August)

Nicole, a hairstylist at Marla’s salon, spends weekends at her boyfriend Kevin’s place. His parents and siblings live in Miami. Nicole meets them in Trimmed and then Kevin takes her to the Bahamas before Thanksgiving (Nov).

What you want to do with each installment is add to this list and then copy and paste it to your next book’s files. It’s easy to get lost unless you keep detailed notes regarding these timelines. You could say the same for family trees. Figuring out who is related to whom gets even more confusing if you don’t draw a diagram or make notes.

Generations

For the writers out there, what else do you include on these timeline lists?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Writing Goals for 2019

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 8, 2019

Setting goals is critical if you want to get things done. For a writer, making a list of what you want to accomplish each year will put you on the right path. In an earlier blog post, I reviewed my goals for 2018. We discussed what got done and what didn’t. Authors can break down their goals into creative and business oriented tasks.

goals2

So now let’s take a look at 2019. This might seem less ambitious than last year, but revising and reissuing my backlist titles is my main goal. That project could take the entire year, because I go through each book to tighten the writing and then do a full read-through once for any further changes and again to check for conversion errors after formatting. It takes time, because I want each book to be the best possible version. So I am not going to set myself too many tasks beyond this one.

CREATIVE GOALS

Reissue remaining backlist titles (6 romances + 4 mysteries)

Write and publish Easter Hair Hunt, #16 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries

Write and publish a Bad Hair Day recipe book

BUSINESS GOALS

Enter latest releases in writing contests

Carry on with newsletter, blogs and social media

Update website in terms of hosting and other behind-the-scenes decisions

Bundle books into box sets

Consider wider distribution for audiobooks

LEARNING GOALS

Learn how to use various book production tools as new opportunities arise

Learn how to plan and promote book sales after all my backlist titles are under my control

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Five years ago, I wrote a list of long-term, five-year goals. I am pleased to say that I am on target with most of these items. Once this year’s goals are met, it will be time for a career reassessment. Only by resetting our overall goals periodically can we gain clarity on the best path to take next.

What is the main item you want to get done this year?

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Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, Marketing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 20, 2018

This past weekend, writing coach Joyce Sweeney gave a workshop on The Plot Clock at the August meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. You can sign up for a webinar on this topic at her website: http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/. Here’s what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.

JoyceSweeney  IMG_E1083

Start with this question before you begin plotting: What will happen to your protagonist so he has to change and transform? In a mystery, how will the murder challenge your main character?

Act One of this four-act structure includes the Inciting Event. The person who doesn’t want to change meets an event that will cause him to transform. At this stage, he is reluctant to get involved. He fights against the inevitable until something compelling happens that he can’t avoid. This is called the Binding Point.

Act Two finds the hero entering the special world of the story. In a mystery, this is when the sleuth commits to solving the crime. But the protagonist hasn’t changed yet and makes mistakes. Things go badly for him. As a writer, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character? He keeps losing ground and struggles to carry on until he reaches a Low Point. This happens in the middle of the book.

In Act Three, the hero determines to improve and fight on. By doing the right thing, he gains ground. He may have followed the wrong path and has changed direction. Now he is on the proper trail. But we still need to escalate tension. As the protagonist gets closer to identifying the murderer, the bad guy reacts. More deaths may occur. Attempts on the hero’s life might threaten him. The sleuth is doing better at solving the crime, but the killer is now on to him. For every action the hero makes, the villain makes a countermove.

The Turning Point comes out of left field and moves us into Act Four. Nobody could have anticipated this plot twist. It derails the main character so that he questions his purpose and wants to quit, or “turn away.” Here you must raise the stakes so he can’t quit. He rallies and “turns back” to solve the mystery.

The Climax comes close to the end. You should be layering in the explanations about the suspects’ motives so the Denouement is short and doesn’t drag on.

For more details, visit Joyce’s site at http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Having Too Many Story Ideas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 9, 2018

Writer’s Block is often interpreted to mean that a writer stumbles over what to write next. Or he comes to a complete halt due to outside distractions or loss of confidence. But what about when he has so many ideas, that he can’t complete a single one? This can be conceived as another type of writer’s block.

Story Ideas

“I have too many ideas at once, and I don’t know which one to pick,” an aspiring author wrote to me. “What is your advice on this issue?”

It’s great if you have lots of story ideas. It’s not so good if you allow them to distract you until you can’t write anything. Or maybe you’ll write a bit on each one but never finish a single novel. My suggestion would be to pick the one idea that excites you the most and keep writing until you finish the first draft. Yes, it’s that simple.

“You’ve had two series going on together. How did you manage it, both mentally and during the actual writing? Was it difficult going back and forth? Is it easier to finish one at a time?”

I can only work on one project at a time. Even when I was writing two series in different genres, I would focus on one book until it was finished and in the hands of my editor. When that book was completely done, I would turn to the next project.

What happens when you have so many ideas that they interfere with your concentration? Write them down. Keep a “New Idea” file or a “Plotting” file and jot down your notes. Then put them aside until you finish your current project.

Set yourself daily and weekly writing goals for your story of choice. Then sit your butt in the chair and drive yourself each day until you meet your quota. Do not stop if one of those tempting ideas entices you. Concentrate on the book at hand. Later on, those ideas will either be viable or not. You’ll know better when you gain some perspective. For now, you have one project only that you need to finish. To reiterate:

· Pick your project.

· Set your writing goals.

· Write down all the distracting ideas in your head and set them aside.

· Begin on your daily writing quota.

· Keep writing until you finish the first draft.

Next come revisions, and that’s another topic we’ve already addressed here. Your book isn’t done until it’s done. Edited, Revised, Polished, and Submitted.

Then and only then, you may turn to your list of potential new projects. If you’re writing a series, you will need to begin the next installment. If not, listen to your heart and determine which idea is calling to you. Your passion will shine through in your words. Have some ideas that don’t resonate anymore? Scratch them off the list. You want to be excited enough that the buoyancy will sustain you throughout an entire novel. One idea at a time. One day at a time. One page at a time.

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Fine Tuning Your Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 7, 2018

You’ve read through your novel for the umpteenth time and can barely look at it anymore. Then your advance reading copy or final pdf file arrives, and it’s time for a last glance before sending your baby into the world. Will you still find changes to make? Undoubtedly. Sometimes these are conversion errors. Or you may notice typos or word choices that need a tweak.

Fine Tuning

Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, is set to debut on Sept. 25. Check out the latest changes I’ve made and you’ll gain some insight into the mind of a writer. Caution – There may be spoilers.

p. 74 – bustled … bustle.

A few minutes later, Janet bustled down the stairs along with her housekeeper. After giving the woman an order and watching her bustle off toward another part of the house, Janet turned to Marla.

Change “bustle” to “scurry” so it reads …watching her scurry off…

p. 78 – “get involved” x 2

Janet clapped her hands. “It sounds wonderful. I’d love to get involved. Tony, you could ask Tristan to donate some of his desserts. You cross paths on occasion.” She turned to Marla. “His restaurant buys vegetables from our farm. They like to advertise how their dishes contain ingredients from sustainable food sources.”

“That would be amazing if his restaurant would get involved in our charity event. They’d benefit from the publicity as well.”

Change “I’d love to get involved” to “be included.” So it should say, I’d love to be included.

p. 103 –Marla winced. “I know what you mean. I’m wondering if you knew Francine Dodger, publisher of Eat Well Now magazine.

Delete “Marla winced” on this line. I use “wince” too many times.

p. 125 – “It says, ‘Meet me at midnight by the Living Tree. All hail Osiris.’ “

Last quote mark is reversed.

p. 148 – “You can tell, huh? Your dad called with bad news. Another woman is his case was found dead.” Change “is” to “in”

p. 154 – “Why are you so afraid, Janet?

Add quote mark at end of sentence

p. 161 – “Actually, I came to order lunch. Can get you get me a turkey delight to go?”

Can get you get me. Delete first “get”

p. 165 – “Lynette theorized that Francine would have made an effort to buy the magazine from the conglomerate that owns it.

Made an offer, not made an effort. Change effort to offer.

p. 170 – “I’ll give you a taste of our olive oil varieties after we return.”

Marla’s jaw dropped as she noticed the variety of goods for sale.

Varieties … variety. Change “variety” of goods to “range” of goods

p. 178 – Used “message” x 3.

Chills ran up Marla’s spine as she scanned the message. Mind your own business or you’ll be next.

[Chapter Break]

“It looks as though the message was printed on a sheet of white computer paper.” Marla snapped a photo and messaged it to Dalton.

Change “messaged” to “sent” in this last sentence.

p. 180 – The word “property” is used too many times.

“Without color of title means we’ve been paying property taxes and any liens on the property, as well as meeting the other conditions. Besides occupying the property for a minimum of seven years, we have to be in open use of the property, essentially acting as the sole owner.”

Change “occupying the property” to “occupying the place”

p. 199 – Used “man” x 3.

“If his column is losing readers, it’s because the man has lost his edge.”

“Could he have wanted to get her out of the way?” Dalton studied the other man’s face.

“Are you kidding? Man, that guy couldn’t hurt a fly. He doesn’t have it in him.”

Remove this “Man” and just say, “That guy couldn’t hurt a fly.

p. 204 – She could have quite a list of personal indiscretions hidden away. Change to: She could have had quite a … Add “had” in this sentence. This refers to the victim.

p. 231 – Used “took” x 2

The camera wasn’t in Francine’s purse and hasn’t been turned in by anyone.”

“Do you believe the killer took it?”

“It’s possible. The pictures Francine took could be useful to the case.”

Change to, Do you believe the killer kept it?

p. 249 – Referencing Marla’s stepdaughter in this paragraph:

Meanwhile, it promised to be a bumpy ride. Dalton likely wouldn’t approve of any guy she brought home for them to meet until he’d done a thorough background check and conducted a personal interview. She couldn’t blame the girl for being guarded about her love life and had to trust her to make the right decisions.

Change “she” to “Marla” in the beginning of this sentence to clarify: Marla couldn’t blame the girl for being guarded about her love life and had to trust her to make the right decisions.

Recipes:

p. 274: spice cake mix is not capitalized

p. 275: Yellow Cake Mix is capitalized

Choose one or the other for consistency

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It is not easy to scrutinize your work line-by-line and word-for-word, but this is part of the writing process. You want your book to be the best it can be, and this is the way. Positive feedback from readers makes it all worthwhile.   CLICK TO TWEET

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Inconsistent Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2018

Revisions for our novels should include a complete read-through for repetitions and inconsistencies. What do we mean by the latter? You’ll want to take a look at your characters to see if they are behaving in a manner consistent with their personality. As a writer, this should be an essential part of your self-editing process. Below are some examples.

Inconsistent Characters

What’s wrong with this passage?

Dalton went for his gun, but Marla slapped his hand away. “Don’t risk it. You don’t know what we’re up against yet. And they won’t know you’re armed.”

Marla would never slap Dalton’s hand away. He’s a police officer. He knows his business. He’s allowed her to come along on a night mission, which she shouldn’t jeopardize this way.

Often it’s my critique group that catches these kinds of mistakes. In this case, I read those sentences and frowned. Wait a minute. Marla would never do this. I went back and changed it.

Ditto for Marla acting dumb. My editor has caught me on this one more than a few times. “Marla is too smart not to figure this out when everyone else knows what’s going on.” She isn’t acting in character when she’s too dense. Same goes for Dalton. Should he let Marla accompany him to interview suspects without protesting or finding an important reason for her to come along?

This also goes for mannerisms of speech. Your rough-around-the-edges hero isn’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, good heavens.” His dialogue should be consistent with his personality.

Here are more examples from my current work-in-progress. Marla and Dalton are talking about the victim.

“That would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away,” Dalton said.

“Do you truly believe another person did this to her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

My editor said, It’s obvious another person did this to her. Could the woman whack herself on the back of her head?

“This injury is indicative of a blow to the back of the head,” Dalton replied. “The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, though.”

Would he say this to Marla when the gash is evident? Not according to my editor, who wrote, “This is another dumb remark. Of course matted blood to the back of the head is “indicative” of a blow to the back of the head!!!”

I’m lucky my editor isn’t afraid to call the shots as she sees them. She’s always right. Here is my rewrite. See what you think:

“So that would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away.”

“Are you certain the blow is what killed her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

“That’s not for me to say, but it would be my best guess. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.”

We hope to catch these errors during the revision process. What we write during the heat of the story-making process doesn’t always pass muster when examined under the editorial microscope.

 

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12 Steps for Revising Your Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 27, 2018

Revisions on your novel can seem like a never-ending task. This seems especially true when you get a letter from a reader years later to tell you about a misspelled word. We’re never going to get it absolutely perfect, but we can do our best.

revision steps for your novel

In an earlier post, I’d mentioned the Five Stages of Writing. I’ve also talked in other posts about line editing and other techniques for improving your work. What comes next after you’ve sent the book in to your editor? Here’s a list of suggestions:

1. Make the corrections advised by your editor when she sends your story back with comments.

2. Check your formatting throughout the manuscript after making a series of changes. Be sure all chapter headings are consistent. Turn on the paragraph symbol in Word and look for misplaced sentences or extra spaces. Do a search for [space]^p and replace with ^p. Then do a search for ^p[space] and replace with ^p. This gets rid of extra spaces before and after a paragraph.

3. Review your editor’s comments to make sure you haven’t skipped anything.

4. Revise the synopsis and chapter outlines to reflect any changes to the story or the timeline.

5. Do a thorough read-through to make sure everything reads smoothly and to see if you caught all the changes. One change may lead to another, and you might miss some if they’re one or two lines here and there.

6. Do another read-through if these second round of changes were significant.

7. Consider using a software program like Smart-Edit to check for redundancies, repetitions, or clichés that your editor might have missed. (Or do this step before you turn in your manuscript for the first time.)

8. Send the book to beta readers for another round of critiques from the readers’ viewpoint and for proofreading. If you are traditionally published, this is when you send the book in for copy edits.

9. Follow-up with another round of revisions and a complete read-through again.

10. Send in the finalized book to your editorial house or to your formatter for production.

11. Read through the entire ARC (advance reading copy) for conversion errors and final tweaks.

12. Approve the final version.

What else do you do during the Revisions Stage?

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Holding Patterns

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 26, 2018

Holding Patterns

Sometimes as writers, we have to wait on others to progress with our current works in progress. When you are waiting for the copy edits from your traditional publisher, for example, is one instance of this. We play the waiting game when we send in submissions, anticipate our advance reading copies, or expect our edits to come any day. It’s part of the game. What you need to do during this time of inactivity is to either work on your next project or focus on marketing strategies.

As part of my goals for this year as mentioned in an earlier post, I plan to have five releases. Two of these objectives have been met. Silver Serenade came out in a revised ebook edition and Died Blonde made a revised paperback debut. What about the rest?

I’m waiting on my developmental editor for Trimmed to Death, the next Bad Hair Day mystery.
I’m waiting on my narrator for the audiobook edition of Body Wave.
I’m waiting on my cover artist for the expanded second edition of Writing the Cozy Mystery.

Am I planning a marketing campaign for any of these projects or working on the next creative endeavor in the meantime? Sorry…but no. This break comes at a good time. Our daughter is getting married. My spare moments are taken up with researching bridal shower venues and mother-of-the-bride dresses. This is a big reason why you’re not hearing from me so much on this blog at present. If you like, I can discuss the restaurants we’ve visited and the beautiful dresses I’m seeing, but it’s not writing advice. It is life experience. Depends on which journey you want to read about here.

I’m not totally lazing about, however. I have been preparing three PowerPoint presentations for upcoming events. See my Appearances page if you wish to know where I’ll be speaking. And I’m revising Keeper of the Rings, an earlier science fiction romance. So I am still being productive even if it’s not on the three projects above.

Things are bound to get more intense as the nuptials get closer, so I might have to put off one of my planned releases until later in the year. A book release requires a lot of effort if you mean to send out review copies, write blogs for blog tours, plan launch parties, and more. And all of these three projects will require special attention in that way. So their releases will have to be spaced out accordingly.

What do you work on while you’re in a holding pattern for your current project?

 

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